Folsom Illustrates California Prison Woes


When Johnny Cash performed at California’s Folsom State Prison in 1968, inmates lived alone in their cells and most were in school or learning a professional trade. When they were released, most never returned, says National Public Radio. Now Folsom, built to hold 1,800 inmates, houses 4,427. It’s once-vaunted education and work programs have been cut to just a few classes, with waiting lists more than 1,000 inmates long.

“There’s drug activity, gang activity,” says a prison spokesman. “It’s kind of like a pressure cooker.” Where a photographer stood 40 years ago and captured Cash’s famous concert, an officer now stands in a metal cage. He’s armed with three guns and pepper spray. There are now 15 to 20 assaults a week here at Folsom. And while inmates used to mix with one another, Folsom now is entirely segregated by race – in the cafeteria, on the yard and in the cell blocks.

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